Okta, Inc.

The dos and don’ts of navigating career growth

Insight from Okta’s Brenda Bendel

Photo of Okta's Brenda Bendel, enterprise sales director, with quote saying, "Two foundations of my work now are delivering on my promises and always having the back of the customer and my team."

Brenda Bendel’s first sales job involved knocking on doors and selling copy machines.

“It was very old-fashioned,” she says, laughing. “I was literally handing out business cards, demoing copy machines, and signing physical contracts.”

Little did she know that those initial door knocks marked the start of a successful sales career, characterized by highs, lows, and plenty of learning opportunities. Now as the enterprise sales director at Okta, the world’s identity company, Brenda reflects back on the experiences that led her to this moment.

“I found a career that I’m passionate about and developed the needed skills. Everything else followed,” she shares.

We sat down with Brenda to hear more about what followed, including the key lessons she learned along the way. She also shared a few fundamental dos and don’ts for others navigating growth.

From doorknocking to deal closing

While working for a labor replacement company, Brenda received a phone call from her father that would change her career trajectory.

“He said to me, ‘Patty called and she thinks you’d be great at sales with Xerox,’” Brenda recalls. “I went in for my first interview, with zero sales experience, and they questioned why I was there. Needless to say, it was a ‘no.’ When someone tells me no, I’m the type of person that will figure out a way to do it.”

And she did. Brenda grew from a door-to-door sales contributor to a client sales executive over 15-plus years with Xerox. She credits part of her growth to mentorship, pointing out two specific mentors that paved the way for her continued success.

“I worked with a specialist who had been in the industry for a long time and taught me to look forward. When you go somewhere, observe the environment and anticipate what will happen,” Brenda says. “The second mentor taught me to think strategically and outwardly. As in, put yourself in the place of another individual and think, ‘What would they want to know right now?’”

Brenda also developed her own personal brand throughout these initial career steps. She mentions how branding is an incredible tool for boosting one’s reputation, gaining trust, and, ultimately, signing more deals. “I built a brand that was collaborative, thought-leading, and emanated integrity in order to marshal the resources when I needed to,” she confirms.

Overcoming obstacles

Brenda's upward trajectory wasn’t without road bumps.

She quickly learned the importance of avoiding assumptions after missing the fiscal year when closing a multimillion-dollar deal at Xerox. The client was changing their procurement system which elongated the closing process by three weeks. “I had worked with this organization for 10 years. 10 years! Since I’d been through the process a dozen times, I didn’t think to ask about the timeline,” she says.

Now, Brenda is fearless in her curiosity — constantly asking questions. “Salespeople tend to be concerned with perception. They don’t want to be viewed as not knowing something; which can lead to hesitation in asking tough questions. I am now the first person to ask, ‘How does this work?’ or ‘I don’t understand,’” she says.

As Brenda developed her reputation, she also realized the power of building trust, both internally and externally.

“It was a story of patience. Trust is earned and it doesn't happen overnight,” she says. “Two foundations of my work now are delivering on my promises and always having the back of the customer and my team.”

Continued growth at Okta

Brenda wasn’t searching for a move when she discovered Okta.

“A good friend and colleague of mine came to Okta and told me that I should really look into the organization,” she says, explaining that her decision to take the leap came down to three factors: leading technology, go-to-market opportunity, and the people.

“It was evident that this would be a fun opportunity to work with really smart people in a new industry for me,” she says.

Since joining, her growth has only continued to accelerate. Brenda attributes her deeper understanding of the market and identity products to Okta’s collaborative culture. She leans on her coworkers’ knowledge to learn new processes and regularly brushes up on her skills through Okta’s internal learning and development platform.

Brenda also calls out that not all sales skills can be taught. Rather, some are developed — and if we take a look at Brenda’s career story, it’s clear that certain lessons are better learned the hard way.

“I’ve learned the importance of tenacity, curiosity, and trust,” she says. “These are the three things I’ve come to believe in, and when I see other successful sales professionals, there’s no doubt in my mind that they do, too.”

The dos & don’ts of navigating your career growth

As you consider your own career growth — no matter your industry — Brenda leaves you with this guidance:

Do: Be a continuous learner. “Always be learning, from the business side to the personal side,” Brenda says. She also loops back to the importance of avoiding assumptions. “When we’re with our clients or our internal business partners, it’s important to dig in, get curious, and ask questions.”

Don’t: Put yourself on a pedestal. “Let your actions prove your value, because people can see through arrogance,” Brenda says. She stresses how much she’s grown through Okta’s collaborative, family-oriented culture, and encourages others to stay humble and open to feedback.

Do: Lean on your network and personal brand. “So much of our career growth is about who we know, not what we know,” confirms Brenda. “All of my moves between companies came down to who I knew, and then my personal brand catapulted me forward. And I still talk to my customers from Xerox even though I haven’t been there for 15 years. That network is absolutely essential.”

Don’t: Make a move just for the sake of growth. “We often believe that leadership is the natural next step,” Brenda says. “I was actually tapped two times for leadership positions, and I decided it wasn’t my time yet. When I finally made the move to lead it was the best decision, because I was ready for it.” .” Be intentional about your next steps. If the passion is there, the rest will fall into place.

Interested in growing your career inside Okta? They’re hiring! Check out Okta’s openings here.
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